Every day there are stories documenting the Trump administration’s crackdown on American immigration. Non-profit groups, including some on the Lower East Side, are working to help people overcome the new barriers to U.S. residency and citizenship. Just before Christmas, we met a young doctor from Venezuela who has been seeking asylum, with the assistance of the LES organization Vision Urbana.
In the past few years, record numbers of Venezuelans have sought asylum in the United States, as political turmoil, oppression, violence and economic hardship sweep the South American country. Oswald Chacon, a pediatric physician, is one of those who got out. We first heard about his case from Eric Diaz, director of Vision Urbana. We were invited to speak with Chacon and some of the people who have been working on his behalf following an AIDS/HIV awareness event held at Primitive Christian Church on East Broadway earlier this month.
Yudith Ortiz, who runs Vision Urbana’s immigration programs, said the organization is now handling four asylum cases. All of the clients are from Venezuela or Guatemala. Under normal circumstances, these types of cases can take four to six years to process, sometimes even longer. Private attorneys often charge around $10,000 to handle an asylum application. In Chacon’s case, Ortiz said she received a quick response from the Department of Homeland Security. Within two weeks, the government indicated his paperwork was being processed. If all goes according to plan, Chacon will have his papers within a year.
According to Vision Urbana, he’ll be able to stay in the U.S. for four years without risking deportation. A judge will review his case at the end of four years.
In order to stay in America, asylum-seekers must prove they faced persecution in their home countries. Dr. Luis Laviena, a psychologist, has worked with Vision Urbana clients for many years to help tell their stories. “The issue of immigration,” said Laviena, “is very close to my heart. A lot of the cases we deal with, the people have been abused. They’re victims of violence. People are singled out because they are ethnic minorities in their countries, or because of sexual orientation, or due to political issues.” Governments, he noted, have marginalized them, prevented them from working, taken away their livelihoods.
Laviena helped piece together Chacon’s personal history and, “provided the assessments to prove without a doubt that his is a hardship case.”
When Chacon left Venezuela, he spent a period of time in Spain before coming to the U.S.. Today his family is dispersed, with some relatives in Barcelona and others, including his mother, in Mexico. The Venezuelan government would not allow Chacon to work as a doctor because he refused to support the current regime under President Nicolas Maduro. “I come from a very good family,” he explained during an interview in the church basement. “We lost everything for no reason. We did nothing wrong.”
Chacon said he’s working on improving his English, and then he’ll focus on obtaining a medical license to practice in this country. In the future, he may try to bring his mother to New York. For the moment, however, Chacon is just relieved that his asylum application is on track. “I’m so happy right now. It’s been very difficult.”